Pro 2 is the better North American Formula DRIFT series because the competition is fiercer. There, we said it—no more beating around the bush. We may have suggested as much over and over in our past Pro 2 coverage, especially because you regularly have 35-plus driver fields—the best from all over the world, really—fighting for just 16 tandem eliminations spots, but let's be real here: Pro 2 is where it's at.
We're inspired to make such a bold claim by this year's Pro 2 season finale (and by following the entire championship from its genesis, honestly). As we sorta explained in our piece on Round 3 in St. Louis, the 2019 ender looked to be a doozy, with a whopping three drivers less than 25 points from standings leader Trent Beechum in his Mustang. And let's not forget, eight Formula D Pro licenses were up for grabs at Texas Motor Speedway, which meant Round 4 was a fight for the podium, a fight for the championship, and a fight to advance to the FD "Big Leagues."
Using the same layout as the Pros, we had just over 30 cars line up to take a qualifying pass. Round 3 winner Alec Robbins in his Dayton One 350Z set the high mark late in everyone's first lap with a score of 92, followed by Garrett Denton and his KoruWorks S14 with a 90, and both Troy Manners in the PRL Motorsports S14 and Ola jaeger in the Japan Auto A80 Supra scored 88s. Then in an unusual wrinkle, Thursday Qualifying had to be halted because it got too dark on the infield road course at TMS and judges were having difficulty seeing action on it; the session resumed Friday, where Jaeger improved to a 90 to move up to P2. No one could top Robbins's score, and as a result he'd face Kelsey Rowlings in her Voodoo Ride S14, who squeaked in with a 79, her first Top 16 of 2019 due to steering system issues that had plagued her Ford V8-powered Nissan all season long.
Robbins and Rowlings were first and Kelsey made up for not qualifying in 2019 to this point by pushing the match to double One More Times; their first pair were ugly, and Robbins looked like he could've ended it the second time around but was simply too aggressive, sacrificing line for speed in the lead and ignoring decel zones in the chase. On their third lap with Alec in the lead, he appeared to miscalculate Zone 1 and proceeded to slide his Z33 into the runoff, and Kelsey followed him off, as she arguably should have, where there was contact. Rowlings's S14 suffered some damage and her team thrashed to get it back to the grid, but unfortunately they ran out of time; shouldering an incomplete from his first lap, in the unlikeliest of scenarios, Robbins somehow was able to advance with a bye after a pair of OMT.
Top 16 didn't get any less dramatic when the second pair, Josh Robinson in his Holden Ute and Rob Carlsen in his S14, pulled up to the line. Robinson flew through the course in the lead, with Carlsen at one point going off course at Zone 3; when the two switched positions, Carlsen had a huge crash into the dreaded tire wall at Zone 4 that caught up Robinson's Ute, turning both cars into scrapheaps. Robinson, who was one of a handful chasing the 2019 Pro 2 title, ended up winning the match, but because the car was irreparable at TMS he had to concede the day.
The much lower qualifying Riley Sexsmith in the NV Auto BRZ pulled the upset on Troy Manners in the PRL Motorsports S14, while Adam LZ in his S15 was dominant against Andrew Schulte's S13, the young YouTube star earning his first advance into the Great 8.
The other side of the Top 16 bracket began with Jaeger taking on Tim Cobb in his clutchless, sparking S14, which seems like it could've been an opportunity for Ola to advance easily; not so. After some cringeworthy laps, Jaeger and Cobb lined up again for a OMT, this time the Norwegian driver being a hundred times smoother in the lead and Cobb's car finally dying in his lead.
Points leader Beechum lucked out against Jonathan Hurst and his Dynosty G35 to move on, when both zeroed out their chases but Trent had the better lead. Kenric Meyer and his Verocious Motorsports E36 struggled with proximity chasing Denton's S14, allowing Garrett to advance, and Top 16 concluded with Donovan Brockway in the Red Baron Racing BMW F22 ending Rome Charpentier's title run in his Imagine Garage E36 (which itself had a gnarly wreck in the Zone 4 tires in between Qualifying and the start of tandem eliminations, and miraculously Rome's team got it back in action).
With Great 8, just three remained in contention for the title, Beechum, Denton, and Robbins, with Robbins fortuitously getting a bye when Robinson could not return. Adam LZ continued his Texas charge by eliminating Sexsmith with better proximity in the chase, and Beechum outshined Jaeger to also move up. The round ended with Brockway scoring his second win of the night over a higher qualifying challenger; in this case it was Denton, who saw his title hopes evaporate with the loss.
Robbins's good fortune—and title pursuit—petered out in the Final 4 against an Adam LZ who was finally showing what he was capable of; they weren't the prettiest runs, but LZ clearly had the better lead. In the other semifinal battle, Beechum put a stop to underdog Brockway with much better angle both in the lead and chase. Robbins still got third place overall for being the highest qualifier, but most significantly, with Alec's elimination, Trent was free and clear the 2019 Pro 2 champion.
There was still the matter of determining an event victor, and coincidentally both Pro 2 and Pro Finals featured an S15 and a Mustang. And was it ever a show—two fantastic runs by LZ and Beechum, lots a great, close driving that required a One More Time. In the extra frame, Trent had a killer lead lap, and that turned out to be the difference.
There were times throughout the season when we thought maybe Trent Beechum might not be able to hold on to his lead in the standings, but when it counted he really delivered; in the end, he closed out 2019 with a 78-point edge in the points. He and seven others—Alec Robbins, Garrett Denton, Josh Robinson, Rome Charpentier, Ola Jaeger, Adam LZ, and Kenric Meyer—now have the choice to use that license for Formula DRIFT Pro or not; historically some have, while others take the time to corral more resources with another year of Pro 2. Whatever the outcome, we look forward to 2020, to see who makes the leap and who returns to the best pro drifting series in North America.